Album Reviews

Prog-Tober 2020

Issue 2020-078: Day 8 — Fish

October 2020 sees the 25th anniversary of DPRP.

A quarter of a century of uninterrupted reviews, interviews and features across the progressive genre is quite some landmark. To celebrate the occasion, we shall publish one review edition every single day during this month - 31 editions!

Welcome to Progtober!

In addition to our usual in-depth, independent reviews, our team has compiled a collection of interviews, artist features and several of our ever-popular Duo and Round Table Reviews. Over 40 different albums will be covered.

As ever, thank you to all our readers for your ongoing support, as well as all the artists and labels who create the music we love, and not forgetting the hundreds of people who have written and contributed to this website over the past 25 years.

With the release of his final studio album, music legend Fish talks to the DPRP's Stefan Hennig about the creation of Weltschmerz, the frustrations of the current pandemic, and the affects it has on releasing an album under these conditions. He also let slip who was nearly the drummer in his first solo tour.

Fish, promo photo by Wojtek Kutyla, used by kind permission.

How are things going currently?

Its strange having an album out and feeling so isolated and detached from it all. The album is going out and people are hearing streams of it. Copies of the album are coming into us now, and its all pretty weird. I would normally expect to be be preparing for rehearsals. I should be performing at open air dates and starting a tour, and its not happening. We just have no idea, and the frustration of not knowing, that's the crazy thing. My tour has already been moved to next October/November, but in reality there is still a question mark over it. We are looking at reinfection ratings going up all over the place, and if this carries on into the New Year, we will be in the same place as we are now.

The bottom line is, I cannot go out on a tour and play to socially distanced audiences. It just makes no financial sense. My problem is I should be on my farewell tour next year, and I have already said to my agent, if the dates have to be moved again, then the tour will be cancelled. The next tour will be my last one, because I cannot do this never-ending world tour.

Talking to musicians recently, the biggest fear is the not knowing what the future holds.

I was thinking the other day about what would have happened to us (Marillion) back in 1982 if the Covid situation happened then? You have an album coming out, you have a tour booked, the world is your proverbial oyster, and then suddenly you have to stop. To have your dream suddenly put on pause, for an indefinite amount of time, must be heart-breaking for everyone.

You have also got to consider people out there who may have lost their jobs, or be struggling on a reduced income, they are going through tough times. So putting an album out on the 25th September, I might just get lucky, but putting an album out next year is going to be testing for everybody. I am just glad about the model I took up in 1993/94, of being an independent, self-financed artist. If I had now been an artist signed to a major label, I would be in a position needing to phone up and getting further advances on potential royalties. Likely they would say no, so what the f..k would you do?

For us, the mail order keeps us alive here. My wife and I run the operation. My wife runs the nuts and bolts, she is in the other office now dealing with advance and pre-orders for the new album. We are fortunate to have this type of set up. Some people are not as fortunate.

Fish, promo photo by Kai R Joachim Photography, used by kind permission.

I am lucky living in my own private oasis which is a sanctuary for us. We have the garden, which has been a wonderful escape for us in the last six months. We are looking at a second wave of the virus and at going into darkness. The outside world does then not appear to be as hospitable a place as it was in February/March this year. The future is going to be a testing time.

I am a bit of a prepper. My Mum and Dad would always have a cupboard full of tins, just in case it would all go wrong. That's how I was brought up. My grandfather was a miner and my other grandfather was a blacksmith. Both of them grew up during the 1st World War and took part in the 2nd War, so you prepare for the future. So I have been stocking up on pasta, and I have been collecting more firewood. I even bought a tin of lamp oil yesterday. As a part of the spectrum I am on, I need to be prepared, and I have to plan ahead.

For me, you have always been more than just a singer or songwriter. I see you as a wordsmith. So I have yet to enjoy listening to the album with the lyrics in front of me.

I'm a writer who can sing, rather than a singer who can write. There is a big fundamental difference in all that. I made the decision in 2015 that Weltschmerz would be my last album, so that I can spread my wings and begin to do other things that I have always wanted to do, take on new challenges and just change.

The music business has changed so much. In the past you were buying adverts, now you are buying panels on website pages. It's a different thing. Things like Spotify just do my head in. One thing I was told, is that the youth of today prefer to listen to music on media like Spotify. But when sitting and listening to an album at home, they prefer to listen on vinyl. When I have been playing the album in the house, when I have played the vinyl version, the quality is absolutely superb. Having mastered the vinyl version at half-speed will have helped. Every detail, every little nuance is picked up and it sounds incredible. With the release of Weltschmerz we have seen the orders of the album on vinyl far exceed what we expected. We have tried to keep the pricing of the album as low as possible, because I am very aware of postage prices. We have consciously tried to keep the pricing lean, taking into account we will be mailing out the album. So it has been very interesting to see that vinyl has come very much to the fore.

Back in the 80's it would be very much the case that the tour would support the album. Nowadays the album is there to support the tour. You do not make money off recorded product any more. I am very privileged to have a very loyal fan base, that have stuck with me through the years. There is still enough support out there that enables me to make albums how I want to make them. If I had been making this album on a major record label, they would have shut me down two years ago and said let's just go for a single album. Whereas I have been able to take my time and make the album I wanted to make. So if I wanted strings, and I wanted brass, and I wanted a lute player, I was lucky enough to be able to do it.

Fish, promo photo by Kai R Joachim Photography, used by kind permission.

Was there a specific writing process involved during the making of Weltschmerz?

To be honest I hate talking about the writing process because it happens in so many different ways. There's no exact formula. I don't write the lyrics first, or the music first. Songs like Weltschmerz happened with Steve (Ventsis, co-writer and bass player) and I jamming through the recording studio window. Little Man What Now, the lyric was completely written before the music, and was then moulded with the music that Steve had written. Rose Of Damasus was written over such a long period. All the spoken-word stuff was put on very, very late in the day. Some of the lyrics were written as stand-alone lyrics. There are no rules, that is why that is a question that is impossible to answer.

Some of the album lyrics give the impression of frustration with certain areas of society, such as the current political climate.

Weltschmerz by its very translation is literally world pain. It's sensing the pain of the world. All you have to do is switch on the TV, to feel absolutely helpless and overwhelmed. That was the feeling that drove the album, being in a situation which is out of control.

The album lyrics are also about people dealing with their own problems, some of which have been amplified by the world problems. The songs on the album about mental health, fit well within the framework of the world today.

Going into the album, Calum Malcolm said this would be his last album with Fish. So Calum gave everything to the production of this album. The mixes he did for the album are absolutely outstanding. Mix seven was always the magical number. When we got to mix seven, we knew it was the special one. We'd get to mix five, and we'd go “its almost there, but it is just missing something.” Calum would go away for a bit, and come back with mix six which didn't work. Then he'd come back with mix seven, and it would be bang on the nail. Calum really respects my words and he will say about a particular phrase or lyric that it does not quite fit correctly, so could you just think about what can be done. He then places the voice in the mix, so that it's not right out their, but it's not hidden, and you can hear every word.

When some people bring in an orchestra or string section, they think: "Well we've paid for them, so let's put them way up in the mix". But what Calum does is he syncs them back into the mix, so every time you listen to the album you hear new little things. So, for me, this is the album I always wanted to hear when I was seventeen years old. And it is also the album I always wanted to make as a musician and singer.

Poster for gig on 21 June 1986

I have always wanted to know what it was like when Marillion toured with Queen?

It was fantastic. We didn't do that many dates, only about four. I knew the guys before we went on tour. Roger Taylor asked about being the drummer on the Vigil tour, because back in 1989 Queen were not working. I had known Roger from before, and had met Brian and played regularly with the SAS band which is Spike Edney's, Queen's musical director and live keyboard player's band. Quite often Brian and Roger would come along to the shows, so I got to know them very well. I was also lucky enough to get to sing Tutti Fruiti on stage with Freddie at Manheim and Koln. So yes, they were good times. The band was still on a high, we had not gotten into the shadows which were Clutching At Straws.

What was playing live with Ayreon like last year?

That was fun. Arjen's a lovely guy. When I originally did Into The Electric Castle and wrote the lyrics, I didn't know who he was and what was going to happen with the album. But when he asked me to do the stage show I thought it sounded like fun, so yes, I agreed to do it, and it was a great deal of fun. It was a great weekend with lovely people, with a great sense of company throughout the entourage. It was a challenge as well. When you are used to working to your own song calls, to then be having to be ready on the beat to take to the stage and then exit stage left. It was very intense and after the first show I quickly fell into it, and it was a great deal of fun.

When you are writing, do you have anything left over which you would consider publishing.

No. When I apply myself to writing lyrics, there is nothing thrown away. There may be lines, but nothing substantial that is not used. There are ideas or stories, but my future is in other types of writing.

Fish, promo photo by Kai R Joachim Photography, used by kind permission.

Round Table Review

Fish — Weltschmerz [2CD]

Fish - Weltschmerz
CD 1: Grace Of God (8:19), Man With A Stick (6:27), Walking On Eggshells (7:18), This Party's Over (4:22), Rose Of Damascus (15:45)
CD 2: Garden Of Remembrance (6:07), C Song (The Trondheim Waltz) (4:41), Little Man What Now? (10:54), Waverley Steps (End Of The Line) (13:45), Weltschmerz (6:51)
Patrick McAfee

Fish's proclamation that Weltschmerz would be his last album, left me feeling a bit torn. The announcement drove home the fact that it has been 30 years since his solo career began! Time certainly does flie and I hate to see any artist that I admire step aside. That said, he is 62 years old and I can understand his want to hang up his musical boots, per say.

All things considered though, the album stands as a bittersweet farewell. Easily on par with his best solo releases (Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors or Sunsets On Empire), it is a consistently entertaining swan-song. The strength of the album makes the finality of it difficult to accept, but there is also something to be said for ending his musical career on such a high note.

Much of the material has a nostalgic feel that convincingly recaptures elements of Fish's musical past. The inclusion of several diverse, long-form songs (The Grace of God, Rose of Damascus, Little Man What Now and Waverley Steps) provides an effective throwback to his proggier days. Also, tracks like Walking on Eggshells, The Party's Over and C Song would have sounded very much at home on the Vigil .. or Internal Exile albums.

More so than ever before, Fish has utilised personal experience and inward perspective to pen the lyrics on this release. Though long-ago established as a musical poet with few peers, he does some of his finest writing here. Particularly on the quietly devastating Garden of Remembrance, which is a stunning career highlight.

It is also worth mentioning that Fish sounds as vocally strong as he has in years. Along with all of these factors, the creative success of this recording is cemented by the excellent performances provided by the group of talented musicians involved. This includes Steve Vantis, David Jackson (VDGG), Craig Blundell, Doris Brendel, Robin Boult, and John Mitchell.

Through his timeless work with Marillion in the 80s and several of his 90s solo albums, Fish secured his place in the upper echelon of progressive rock many years ago. His releases since that time have always been worthwhile, but also have been marred by inconsistencies. Conversely, Weltschmerz is a return to glory and a superb listen from beginning to end.

With this exceptional album, Fish has given his fans a wonderful gift and a parting validation of his legendary status. There is perhaps a level of unavoidable sentimentality attached to my supreme score for this release, but the enthusiasm is warranted. Weltschmerz is a great album and at this point, it resides securely as my favorite release of 2020.

Stefan Hennig

I act the role in classic style
of a martyr carved with twisted smile
to bleed the lyric for this song
to write the rites to right my wrongs
an epitaph to a broken dream
to exercise this silent scream
I've gone solo in the game
but the game is over
Derek W. Dick, Script For A Jester's Tear

I cannot think of a better way to begin a review that will emotionally be one of the most difficult that I will ever write. One of Fish's first lyrics seems to sum up this occasion perfectly. How do you honestly and impartially write about a single person whose work has accompanied you through most of your life? This is my dilemma with writing this review. Fish has been completely honest that Weltschmerz is his final studio album. Taking that into account, I can not shake the feeling I am writing an obituary, rather than a review of a musical work.

From the very first call-to-arms of Market Square Heroes, through four of the greatest albums ever released. A solo career which went though many twists and turns, both musically and personally for Fish himself, and now to his final musical offering. A double album, which is a mix of already recently released music and new songs, all of which have been tweaked right up to the final mixing, and the final prophetic chords of Weltschmerz.

This song is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel, with a lyric which reflects upon the current plight of the world, and a person who feels weary with age, but still ready to rally to the hope of change should the opportunity arise. A fitting conclusion to an immense career? For myself it is still difficult to comprehend that “the game is over.”

The one thing that could never be planned for, was the worldwide disruption that Covid 19 has wreaked upon us. The release of Weltschmerz should have been a celebration, but has this has turned into a complex and frustrating time for any artist, and I cannot help but feel saddened for Fish, in that his musical career may come to an end without having the proper opportunity to say goodbye to his fans. I can imagine the frustration and disappointment for Fish which currently surrounds this album's release, and the thorough feelings of helplessness in not being able to retire from the music business gracefully and planned with the control with which Fish would want. While the album is being released, the inability to venture out on the final tour (currently) prevents the proper closure to a historic musical career.

Fortunately this has in no way affected the music on offer. Over his solo career, Fish has been able to surround himself with musicians who have become more of a family than a band. This extends to the album's producer, Calum Malcolm, whose skill has added so much to this album. Bringing in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to add magic to the colossal Rose Of Damascus, along with several other songs, creates a feeling of luxury wherever they add their contributions.

Fish fans have already had liberal exposure to some of the tracks. Man With a Stick, Little Man What Now? and Waverley Steps were included on last year's A Parley With Angels EP, with Weltschmerz, Garden Of Remembrance and This Party's Over being released online in advance of the official album release. So you will have more than an idea of what to expect.

During his career Fish has had many well-documented medical issues with his voice. The result is his vocals are greatly restricted now, compared to when his musical journey began. Fortunately composing material with associates like Steve Vantsis who are aware of Fish's current vocal limitations, means the songs here never overly tax his voice, and all compositions enable a controlled emotional delivery. A lot of the spoken parts were added very late in production, therefore some of these comments enable the album to be as socially-relevant as the majority of Fish's output.

The calculated use of guests enable their inclusion to be meaningful, such as the inclusion of Doris Blundel's vocals on Rose Of Damascus, and John Mitchell's co-writing credit on the emotional and mesmerising Garden Of Remembrance. There are also odd scatterings of saxophone courtesy of ex-Van Der Graff Generator's David Jackson.

The time which Fish and his collective have dedicated to Weltschmerz have enabled them to deliver what is a truly fitting epitaph to a remarkable career. If you ever felt touched by Fish as an artist, then you must dedicate suitable time to his final hurrah. His lyrics are as honest and revelaing as ever, laying his life bare to anyone who is prepared to spare the time to absorb his writing.

I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that this will be Fish's last musical offering, but I must take the time to thank him for being a part of my life and of a number of people around me. May your future ventures be as rewarding to you and the people you continue to touch.

Craig Goldsmith

“This is my defining statement. I knew that I couldn't do anything more in music. It's time to walk away. I don't even really care how it sells or what reviewers might say. It's a punctuation mark.” Well, fair enough, but here goes!

Weltschmerz is German for a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness, and thus couldn't be a more apt title for Mr Derek Dick's apparently final album, after a gap of 13 years. Throughout the 84 minutes the music bleeds a bleak and mournful epitaph for the state of humanity in what, let's face it, is for a lot of people a miserable old world. Fish has claimed however that as a whole, the work is not depressing, rather more of a detailed self-examination and analysis of life's great challenges.

Among the stated influences behind Fish's subject matter are the death of his father, his near-fatal sepsis, spinal surgery, and the Syrian civil war. And that's just for starters. Take Garden of Remembrance for example, which tells of an old married couple struggling with Alzheimer's disease. Fish also alludes to social-distancing with the accompanying video shot at dawn on an Essex beach during lockdown (the original intention was a much more romantic Scottish location), during which there are real tears shed. Despite this, I find this, along with the following track C Song, most frequently sends me reaching for the skip button.

Elsewhere, among the poetry are interspersed plenty of those classically-Fishy lines such as "bruises, purple flowers cover healing punctured veins", and "belly sagging, his underpants are grey and ragged". Lyrically there are no surprises, with the standard rolling pentameter and Fish's gift for rhyme prominent, especially on longer tracks such as Rose of Damascus where he really gets to stretch-out the refugee story, unconstrained from the need to provide the prog-listener with guitar solos or changes in time-signature (it's hard not to compare this with Marillion's Gaza).

Of the changes in time signatures, there is not much. Folks, this is an album about the words. In fact, the most similar record of recent times to compare with is probably Roger Waters' Is This The Life We Really Want?, where many of us were left dreaming of a Gilmouresque solo or two. Where there indeed are some Floyd-like and dare-I-say-it Marillion-style passages (like on the ending to the riches-to-rags tale, and my highlight of the album, Waverley Steps), things really shine. This listener was left wanting a lot more of the latter in-between the word-slabs. It's partly what made the Fish-era Marillion albums so good.

Not to say the music is lacking. The production is excellent and apart from the multiple skills of sidekick and chief collaborator Steve Vantsis, Fish has onboard a collection of highly-regarded musicians including DPRP favourite John Mitchell, former Van der Graaf Generator saxophonist David Jackson, and Doris Brendel on backing vocals. Members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra add to the wide cinematic pallet throughout. Hooks are provided too in places, such as the catchy keys on Man with a Stick and the apocalyptic chorus of the title track. The man himself does not seem to have suffered much in the way of vocal deterioration à la Ian Anderson, although don't expect the scything, barbed-tongue of Fugazi-era Fish.

For the purists, Weltschmerz is also released in a deluxe collector's edition as a hardback book, with 100 pages containing artwork by Mark Wilkinson and 8000 words of sleeve notes, a double CD and a Blu-Ray disc with filmed interviews. There is also live audio from 2018, plus making-of footage and a 5.1 mix.

Fish has gifted us an anthology of wonderfully colourful lyrics. I'm sure many of the DPRP readers will know the words by heart to Script for a Jester's Tear or Warm Wet Circles, and there is plenty here also (almost too much) to add to the memory banks for those so-inclined. A farewell tour showcasing this album along with Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors is planned, taking in proposed 2-night performances in some of his favourite venues. Now that will be unmissable.

The album ends abruptly with "the rapture is here" and throughout the work there is an eschatological overtone. Fish has mischievously remarked that he wants it to be written into his will for no mention of Marillion to adorn his gravestone. After this epic swan song, there is certainly no need for that.

Album Reviews